The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) notes with concern the amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 as it believes that they curtail further the limited space for journalism in the country.
The amendments empower the Sessions Court to issue a “prohibition order” on a “seditious” publication that would “likely lead to bodily injury or damage to property”, or “appears to be promoting feeling of ill will, hostility or hatred” between different races or classes; or persons on the grounds of religion.
The IoJ is concerned over the ambiguity of the terms “likely” and “appears”; and we fear that that these criteria will be open to abuse and misinterpretation.
The prohibition also requires the individuals making or sharing allegedly seditious material - on social media, for example - to remove or delete the content, and also bans those individuals from accessing any electronic device including computers and smartphones.
The IoJ finds this an unfairly harsh punishment especially when there is no expiry date for the prohibition order. The inability to access tools of the trade will mean online journalists’ careers are at risk and threatens the existence of legitimate news portals.
The prohibition on “propagating” seditious speech or their publication also means that online news portals cannot share allegedly seditious remarks on social media and RSS feeds will cease to exist, further silencing discussion on policies and issues which are of national interest.
The situation is further exacerbated by the heavy penalty for first-time offenders who contravene a prohibition order, as they could face a maximum fine of RM5,000 or a jail term not exceeding three years.
The practice of journalism in Malaysia is already hampered by self-censorship that is routinely practised by established news organisations.
This latest curtailment of freedom of expression further restricts public discourse and will create a void in Malaysian social media and a deafening silence in news forums.
We reiterate our urging to the government to carry out its pledge to repeal the Sedition Act, and to cease all further use of the legislation immediately, as it is a law that is irrelevant in a parliamentary democracy such as Malaysia.
The Institute of Journalists Malaysia is the professional organisation of Malaysian journalists, for journalists at all levels, of all media, across all languages.